Bio-Based Projects Blossom

Chemical companies nurture efforts to make fuels and feedstocks.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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At least a dozen potential customers are lined up to trial the process, says Ted Lewis, Mo-Fuel president and chief R&D scientist. "Today it is more competitive than existing ethanol plants. But with our reduced construction and operating cost initiatives we should be able to knock the door wide open to production of biofuel that is competitive with petroleum products as well."

Diesel and jet fuels
Also in January DOE awarded UOP, Des Plaines, Ill., a unit of Honeywell, $25 million to build a demonstration unit in Hawaii to convert cellulosic biomass. The facility will use feedstocks such as forestry, agricultural and algae residues to produce pyrolysis oil (Figure 2) that then will be upgraded to transportation fuels. The plant, which will be built at the Tesoro refinery in Kapolei, should start up in 2014.

The unit will employ rapid thermal processing (RTP) technology developed by Ensyn, Ottawa, Ont. UOP and Ensyn in 2008 formed a jv, Envergent Technologies, Des Plaines, Ill., to offer RTP (Figure 3) and further develop technology for upgrading pyrolysis oil to transportation fuels. Earlier this year an Italian power company selected RTP for a facility to convert biomass into pyrolysis oil for power generation. The plant is slated for 2012 start up.

At the same time UOP continues to develop its Ecofining technology for producing diesel fuel. The route uses hydroprocessing to convert triglycerides from natural oils and wastes into high-quality diesels — essentially isomerized paraffins in the diesel range.

"Existing technologies create a methyl ester — but this gives rise to a number of technical issues including blending and the ability of existing pipelines to handle the product," says Graham Ellis, business manager for biorenewable energy. "The big difference between this and other renewable diesel technologies like co-processing is that we have separated the isomerization unit. So we can take any feed and produce exactly what is required in a client's spec. We are on the Mark II version of the process now and are producing Honeywell Green Diesel at about a 20¢/gallon saving over methyl ester production. And this includes capital depreciation," he adds.

The company also has just launched a process that takes the same feeds as Ecofining but uses selective hydrocracking to produce C10–C14 materials comparable to typical jet fuels. With help from Boeing, UOP has worked with a number of airlines including New Zealand Airways, JAL, KLM and Continental to test the product in real situations.

"We have generated 50,000–60,000 gal. from our own toll processing unit which is being used by the U.S. Navy and Air Force for testing and certification. Continental has reported slightly better fuel efficiency than with the usual jet fuel. So there is a lot of push to get swift certification of the fuel and we hope that this will happen this year. We are hoping that our process will lead to the beginning of a renewable jet fuel industry and this is a significant step," says Ellis.

The same process also has served to convert tallow into jet fuel for the U.S. Air Force and algae into jet fuel for the Navy. "We expect to deliver 1,500 gal. to the Navy this summer; there is a huge interest worldwide in algae but there are only a small number of companies that can produce in any quantity from it. We are trying to give them a route to fuel by ensuring that the oils produced are proven to be compatible with Ecofining and renewable jet processes," he notes.

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